Getting together…

…but not singing Kumbaya
This Emancipation Day, because of COVID 19, “Emancipation Day” was understandably restricted. There were still several gatherings – notably the one sponsored by the Ministry of Culture at the 1823 Monument. There, Prime Minister Phillips gave an an impassioned address on the significance and normative implications of the Day. In a word, Descendants of Enslaved Africans must reflect – yes! – but they should also work to ensure they are truly liberated.
But once again it was clear that, as with “Indian Arrival Day” – even disguised as “Arrival Day” – the Emancipation goings on overwhelmingly attracted only the demographic who were descended from the origin group. And this notwithstanding determined efforts by officialdom for all our “six peoples” coming out. So, it seems folks by and large dismiss such exhortations for togetherness as just another “Kumbaya Moment”.
And this in itself is an interesting expression that recalls an early experience with this “togetherness sentiment” that petered out. It all started back in the lowlands of coastal South Carolina and Georgia where an extraordinary set of people live. They’re descendants of West African slaves – now called “Gullahs” – who might’ve had contact with their cohorts with the West Indies, but in any case, developed a Creole English very similar to ours. They were fairly isolated and allowed to retain much of their W. African heritage because the whites left them to deal with the malaria infestation.
Be as it may, one of their spirituals had the refrain “Kumbaya”: “Somebady singin’, Lord, kumbaya… Somebady cryin’, Lord, kumbaya…Somebady prayin’ Lord, kumbaya. The “kumbaya was actually “kom by ya” – which, as you would know from our own Creole, means “come by here”!! The Gullahs were pleading with the Lord to come witness their plight!! The song was sung after slavery and during the Jim Crow era. It was “cleaned up” into standard English “ – “Someone’s crying, Lord, Kumbaya!” – picked up bynBoynScouts, continued into the Civil Rights struggle when it was picked by White “Folk singers” and became the anthem for racial Justice by Americans from all backgrounds.
By the 1990’s, however, with the lack of real progress in race relations and racism after all the holding of hands, singing and swaying, Kumbaya became derided. It was sneered at as a sign of naïveté and blissful unawareness of the fundamental nature of the divisions and their consequences for race relations. As one observer remarked, Kumbaya” hadn’t changed, but America had – it’s now more aware about what it’ll take to resolve real, substantive, social disagreements.
And this brings us back to us in Guyana. Merely calling for “all Guyanese” to celebrate Emancipation Day or “Arrival Day” – much less “Indian Arrival Day” – ain’t resolving nothing!!
It’s just a Kumbaya Moment!!

…after a day’s hard work
In Guyana, we experienced an even more cynical attempt back in the day by the PNC to create our Kumbaya moment. This was “Mashramani” – the name given in 1970 by partisans of the PNC to the Carnival-like celebrations that developed after Independence on “Republic Day” Feb 23, 1970. They concocted the name, but claimed it was an “Amerindian word” meaning “celebrating after a day’s hard work”! It was supposed to signify the Amerindian practice of “cooperativism”!! Not that Amerindians never cooperated – all tribal peoples do when they don’t have specific institutions to perform certain tasks.
Burnham, of course, had already proclaimed unilaterally: “all Guyanese” practiced “co-operativism”! Never mind Portuguese were all individual businessmen. Never mind that in the one Chinese venture that resembled a cooperative venture – Hopetown at Kamuni Creek – the coal was produced by individual families!! Indian indentured servants saved and bought estates or plots of land individually!!
And even the Co-Ops Burnham funded in his constituency all failed.
Yet Kumbaya survives!

…on fighting COVID 19
If there’s one activity your Eyewitness thought we’d have a sincere Kumbaya Moment was to fight the Covid 19 pandemic.
Sadly, even here the Opposition’s been lukewarm at best – and hostile at worse.